Poor gut health may drive MS — better diet may ease it

January 05, 2023
In a new study, researchers traced a previously observed link between microscopic organisms in the digestive tract — collectively known as the gut microbiome — and multiple sclerosis. Their study in genetically altered mice and people supports the belief that dietary adjustments such as increased fiber may slow MS progression, and they are already working to test the effect of dietary interventions in MS patients.

Several previous studies have differentiated the microbiomes of MS patients and healthy subjects, but, the researchers said, they all noted different abnormalities, so it was impossible to tell what change, if any, was driving disease progression.

The study at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Department of Neurology used mice engineered with MS-associated genes to trace the link between alterations in the gut bacteria and an MS-like condition called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis.

As these mice matured — and simultaneously developed EAE and a gut inflammatory condition called colitis — the researchers observed increased recruitment of inflammatory cells (neutrophils) to the colon and production of an antimicrobial protein called lipocalin 2 (Lcn-2).

The study team then looked for evidence that the same process occurred in people with MS and found significantly elevated Lcn-2 levels in patient stool. This marker correlated with reduced bacterial diversity and increased levels of other markers of intestinal inflammation. Additionally, bacteria that seem to ease inflammatory bowel disease were reduced in MS patients with higher levels of fecal Lcn-2.

The study suggests that fecal Lcn-2 levels may be a sensitive marker for detecting unhealthy changes in the gut microbiome of MS patients. It also provides further evidence that high-fiber diets, which reduce gut inflammation, may help fight MS.

Rutgers is looking to test that hypothesis soon. However, the results of mouse model studies sometimes do not translate to humans and may be years away from being a marketable treatment.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

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